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Monday, December 24, 2007
Pitt, Memphis stay unbeaten in huge matchups

ESPN.com

AP Photo/Lance Murphey

Memphis' smothering defense helped limit Roy Hibbert to just six points.

Player of the Week: Levance Fields, Pitt

By Andy Katz

Last week: 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting with four assists and two steals in a 65-64 overtime win over No. 7 Duke

Sometimes one shot can change a season, a career and a national profile.

Levance Fields' 3-pointer to beat Duke in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night will be a highlight he'll never forget.

Fields decided to go for the win, not the tie, in overtime. He had the confidence instilled in him from his coaching staff, and the smarts to read a situation that he had the slower David McClure defending him near the 3-point line. And instead of driving into the lane, he stepped back for the game-winning 3-pointer.

Fields scored 21 points, had two steals and made all four of his free throws. Sure, he committed a travel and offensive foul late, but he didn't get rattled with time winding down and Duke holding a two-point lead.

Fields had plenty of emotion for him to take over the game. He was upset over the knee injury to Mike Cook -- his best friend on the team -- and he also had a slew of family and friends visiting from Brooklyn.

The win, even with the loss of Cook for the season, puts Pitt in a position to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed if the Panthers win the Big East.

Team of the Week: Memphis Tigers

Andy Katz

Last week: Defeated Cincinnati, 79-69, on the road and beat No. 4 Georgetown, 85-71, at home

Memphis won the top-five matchup with Georgetown on Saturday. The second-half runaway was as impressive a performance as any team has put forth this season.

Memphis clicked offensively in the second half, relying on the shooting and driving of Chris Douglas-Roberts, timely buckets from Derrick Rose and the rebounding work of Joey Dorsey.

If Memphis were to play the rest of the season like it did in the second half, then a Patriots-like pursuit of perfection will be in order. But alas, even the Tigers admitted that they're human and won't be able to bring the same effort every game.

3-Point Shot

Jay Bilas

1. Few have been bigger allies to college basketball officials than I have, and rightfully so. By and large, officials do a good job. But the game has changed, and many officials have not. They work too many games and are unprepared for the games they work.

So far this season, I have seen too many games in which the officiating crew, overall, has not done a good job. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Officials need to watch tape of the teams they have in upcoming games in order to adequately prepare for what they will see. All coaches do it, and so do the better broadcasters. Officials should, too. The players are bigger and more athletic, and the coaches are more innovative and prepared than ever. The officials need to keep up. And don't tell me that they don't have time. When I travel, I take a computer with me and I watch tape of teams from all over the country. I often see officials on planes, and I have never seen one with a computer or watching anything in preparation for games. They do it in the pros, and they should do it in college. I have never done this before, but if I continue to see what I consider to be poor performances by officials, I will start naming names. The officials get paid, and the players and coaches who get called out by name when they perform poorly deserve the best the officials have.

2. Memphis put on a performance against Georgetown that should quiet any concerns about just how good the Tigers can be. The most impressive thing to me was just how tight and focused Memphis was on Saturday and how hard the team played together. Memphis has talent, depth and an outstanding coaching staff, but that is not enough. Like any championship team, they need to have a collective will, and they must be willing to sacrifice individual wants and needs for the success of the team.

On Saturday, Memphis was the best team in the nation, and it had nothing to do with shots falling. I was impressed with Memphis for the little things it did.

Marquise Gray

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Marquise Gray grabbed six tough rebounds against Texas in Saturday's upset win.

Speaking of little things, the manner in which Georgetown left the floor of the FedEx Arena was really impressive.The Hoyas filed out after shaking hands with heads held high and with a great demeanor. The Georgetown roster is loaded with great talent, but also great kids with great character. That loss to Memphis will not shake those kids.

3. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo loves to say that players play, but tough players win. Well, coaches coach, but prepared coaches win, too. While so many coaches do a great job of preparing their teams, it is futile to try to suggest that one guy is the best. But it is impossible to refute that Izzo is one of the most prepared. If you watched the set plays and actions that Izzo ran against Texas' zone and box-and-one defenses, you saw a well-drilled and well-organized Spartans team. Some may just have seen the final lob look to Marquise Gray on one of Izzo's sets in the second half, but it was all set up by ball reversal, Drew Neitzel running off a baseline double screen and taking a defender with him, and the middle man being left to guard a flash and a slip. It was beautiful. Michigan State is the real thing this season. The Spartans can be beaten, but they have good talent, they score easier baskets and they defend the elbow and block well. Michigan State can beat anyone out there. And most of it is because of Izzo.

And One: Memphis coach John Calipari made a great point when asked how his team could duplicate the effort against Georgetown in every game. He said they couldn't do it every single game because they aren't machines, they are people. Well, he's absolutely right. These kids lay it on the line day after day, game after game, and they face high-level athletes and teams that are doing everything they can to stop them. In today's age, we seem to dissect every single movement and action of players and coaches, making judgments about their character, heart, mental and physical courage, and whether they are winners.

I am not suggesting that we should not critique things that we see in the game. But we should respect the effort and the difficulty faced by such high-level competitors. I wonder if critics like us would be so judgmental of ourselves or our colleagues in the jobs we do -- and we don't have anyone preparing all week in an effort to stop us from doing what we do. These kids and coaches hang their tails out there on national television, and whether they succeed or fail in their efforts, they deserve our sincere respect.

Upset Watch

By Reggie Rankin

Scouts Inc.'s Reggie Rankin takes a look at four upsets that could happen this week:

Friday: Southern Illinois over Butler, ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET
SIU defends its home court as well as anyone in the country. The Salukis are 16-1 at home since the start of last season. Butler will arrive in Carbondale, Ill., with experience, a great system and an abundance of shooters. A.J. Graves leads a Bulldogs attack that shoots better than 41 percent from 3-point land. Freshman forward Matt Howard has come into his own to give Butler a fourth double-figure scorer and legitimate post presence. The Salukis' man-to-man defense is always very good; at home, Randal Falker & Co. will turn up the heat another notch. If leading scorer Matt Shaw and Bryan Mullins can make some shots in the motion offense, and if Falker can dominate the glass with his great knack for rebounding and shot blocking, this will be a statement win for Southern Illinois.

Saturday: Winthrop over Miami, 4 p.m. ET
The Hurricanes are off to a terrific start, and their trio of double-digit scorers -- Jack McClinton, James Dews and Anthony King -- have been consistent. Both McClinton and Dews are deadly behind the arc, and King has been a monster on the glass. But Winthrop, in recording 115 wins the past five seasons, is a giant killer. After beating Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament, the architect of the program, coach Greg Marshall, moved on to Wichita State. Assistant Randy Peele took over, and like all programs, a period of transition is expected. All-conference guard Michael Jenkins and forward Taj McCullough are the scoring leaders, while point guard Chris Gaynor runs the show. With a win over Georgia Tech in the books and a chance to get Miami on a neutral floor in the Orange Bowl Classic, the Eagles could get their second win versus an ACC team.

Saturday: Dayton over Pittsburgh, ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET
More than 13,000 of the Flyers faithful will welcome the ninth-ranked and talented Pitt Panthers to UD Arena. Brian Roberts will need to play like he did against Louisville when he denied Rick Pitino his 500th-career win by scoring 28 points in Freedom Hall. Freshman Chris Wright, the Flyers' second-leading scorer, has dominated the A-10 Rookie of the Week award, winning it for four times already. The Panthers are experienced in the backcourt, but junior forward Sam Young and freshman forward DeJuan Blair are the team's leading scorers and rebounders. Pitt and Dayton are both terrific defensive teams, holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game. The Flyers could pull off the upset if the defense holds and if last season's A-10 Sixth Man of the Year, forward Charles Little, steps up his game.

Trent Plaisted

AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

BYU's Trent Plaisted is one of the most underrated big men in the country.

Saturday: Boise State over BYU, 9 p.m. ET
Cougars coach Dave Rose has the BYU program hitting on all cylinders after posting 45 wins the past two seasons and back-to-back Mountain West Coach of the Year honors. BYU has a complete inside-out attack that averages more than 80 points per game. Junior center Trent Plaisted leads BYU in scoring and rebounding. Point guard Ben Murdock is the coach on the floor and has two double-figure scoring wings in Lee Cummard and Jonathan Tavernari. Both are excellent 3-point and free-throw shooters, which makes it difficult to double Plaisted in the post. But traveling to Boise to tussle with the Broncos could be a challenge for BYU. Boise State coach Greg Graham, a former Oregon assistant now in his fifth year, runs an exciting, high-scoring style similar to the Ducks; Boise State also averages more than 80 points per game. The senior-led frontcourt of leading scorer Reggie Larry, Matt Nelson and Tyler Tiedeman may be the best in the WAC. The Broncos could earn a big win if they can defend Plaisted and maintain their scoring output against a defense allowing just 63 points per game.

What I'm looking forward to this week

By Andy Katz

• If undefeated Ole Miss can avoid dropping a potential trap game on the road at Southern Miss on Friday.

• If Connecticut can win a road game that you would think it should at Central Florida on Friday.

• If Butler can pull off a quality road win at Southern Illinois on Friday (ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET).

• If Oklahoma is tough enough to bully West Virginia and beat the Mountaineers on Saturday (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET).

• If Memphis plays with the same type of intensity defensively against a more defensive Arizona team on Saturday at FedEx Forum (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET).

• If Dayton can pull off the upset by beating Pitt at home on Saturday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) and give the Flyers a quality nonconference NCAA résumé.

• If Wisconsin can put forth a better road showing at Texas on Saturday (ESPN2, noon ET) than it did against Duke last month.

• If Gonzaga can pick up a much-needed top-25 win by beating Tennessee in Seattle on Saturday (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET).

Memphis remains perfect by beating G'town

ESPN.com's Mid-Major Top 10

1. Butler
2. Dayton
3. Xavier
4. BYU
5. Saint Mary's
6. Houston
7. Creighton
8. Oral Roberts
9. Sam Houston State
10. Drake

Best of the rest

Kansas: Hard to argue with the Jayhawks right now; they became the first team to score more than 70 points against Miami (Ohio) in 45 games.

North Carolina: Regardless of the competition, the Tar Heels continue to win.

Michigan State: The Spartans were the first team to slow down Texas this season and have the look of a Final Four contender, especially when a freshman like Kalin Lucas can light it up for 18 points.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

MSU hands Texas its first loss

High praise for ...

Ole Miss: Beat Clemson in Puerto Rico in a battle of the unranked unbeatens.

Saint Mary's: Winning the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu sends the Gaels off to an impressive 10-1 start.

Arizona: Swept Mountain West teams UNLV on the road and San Diego State at home while Jordan Hill becomes a double-double machine.

New Mexico: Quietly cruising along under Steve Alford at 11-2.

Brown: The Bears, behind Chris Skrelja's 11 of 12 shooting performance to beat Hartford on the road, look like an Ivy favorite at 6-4.

Ohio: Even though the Bobcats lost to Saint Mary's in the Rainbow Classic final, they rebounded from a brutal loss to Kansas on Dec. 15 to beat St. John's and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores enter the holidays at 11-0 behind another outstanding effort from Shan Foster, perhaps the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Joe Lunardi's under-the-radar teams

Under the radar

Minnesota: You can criticize the schedule if you'd like, but Tubby Smith has the Gophers at 8-1.

Nebraska: It just wasn't fair what the Huskers, now 9-2, did to NC Central. Nebraska beat NCC 71-28 to drop Central to 1-15.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Minnesota bests Santa Clara to improve to 8-1

Games the committee won't forget

Appalachian State 74, Arkansas 67: The Hogs are in no position to lose this type of home game.

Oakland 68, Oregon 62: Tell me again why these homecoming games are a good idea? This one in Auburn Hills was for Oregon's Detroit natives, Malik Hairston and Tajuan Porter.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Oakland gets first-ever win over ranked opponent

Parity or mediocrity?

American 67, Maryland 59: First win for American at Maryland since the 1926-27 season. With the loss to Ohio, the Terps have now lost twice at home to teams outside the "big six" conferences.

Oral Roberts 74, Oklahoma State 59: One Sutton put a pasting on another.

Wofford 69, Purdue 66: Yet another no-name coming into a name school and winning this season.

USC Upstate 58, SMU 56: First-ever D-1 win for Eddie Payne's crew.

Utah 67, Cal 65: This isn't a bad loss for Cal, but it's potentially a missed opportunity to take care of business at home prior to the Pac-10.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Much-needed

Illinois 59, Missouri 58: The Illini were coming off a home loss to Miami (Ohio).

Providence 101, Florida State 95: The Friars desperately needed another win, regardless of whether it's an NCAA team in March, over a fellow "big six" conference team.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Illinois edges rival Mizzou

Notable debuts this week

Brook Lopez, Stanford: Came back from being ineligible to average 19.5 points and five rebounds in wins over Santa Clara and Texas Tech, the latter in Dallas.

Jamal Boykin, Cal: The Duke transfer played just six minutes, scoring two points, in a loss to Utah.

Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga: Back from a broken foot, Heytvelt played 15 minutes and grabbed one rebound in a loss to Oklahoma.

Juan Palacios, Louisville: The forward played 13 minutes after missing the first nine games with injuries. He scored one bucket and grabbed three boards in limited action.

J.P. Prince, Tennessee: Even though he saw his first game action on Dec. 15, I'm going to fudge a bit and put him in here since he played three games last week. Through four games, Prince is averaging 21.7 minutes, 14.7 points and 3.3 rebounds. I still can't get over when I saw him at an Arizona preseason practice last year, and Lute Olson was giving him the business about his lax attitude. Clearly, that has changed; he scored 23 points in the win at Xavier.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

Brook Lopez's return sparks Cardinal win

Deflating

UAB: The Blazers followed up the win at Kentucky with a loss at Wichita State.

Purdue: The Boilermakers lost to Wofford and then couldn't beat Iowa State in Las Vegas.

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com